Thursday, October 22, 2009

It's 3 O'Clock In The Morning

I’m in pain and becoming fearful. It’s been like this for a while, but the pain in my lower back is increasing and I feel I am losing control over what is happening to my body. The clock reads 3 am. Luke is sleeping in our bed. He doesn’t know I have wondered away. So I sit here alone, struggling to make a choice. Finally, I reach for the phone. “Joan? I’m sorry to wake you. I’m at a loss and I need your guidance.” We talk for half an hour. She is comforting, reassuring, and knowledgeable. I thank her for talking with me and hang up.

Slowly, I make my way to the bathroom, clutching at the backs of chairs and tops of the table and piano as I move from the living room through the dining room and to the bathroom. I start the water, a little on the hot side. It will cool quickly and I want to sit in the warmth of it as long as possible. The splashing of the water against itself wakes Luke. I hear him shuffling down the hall. His movement is slow, methodic. He must be looking in the other upstairs rooms to see where I have gone. I hear his footfalls on the steps as I disrobe and attempt to slide myself into the tub through the back spasms.

I know before he arrives that it is not going to work. My knees are pushing up against me and I am cramped. The water is not deep enough. I am disappointed as I slowly pull myself from the tub. I take Luke’s hand as I step over the side, dripping water across the slippery floor. He hands me my robe and I fold it around me, squeezing his hand as the pain wraps itself around me. We move to the couch. I lower myself onto the cushions while he balances himself across cautiously next to me. “What can I do?” His voice is oddly alert for the early hour and I am comforted by this.

“Rub my lower back maybe?” I’m not sure this will have the affect I want, but it is a change and therefore worth a try. He places his fingers firmly on the tops of my hip bones and uses his thumbs to draw small circles deep into the muscles. They are tensing and he retreats. “Please don’t stop. It is helping.” We sit this way for a long while. I breathe while he draws circles. We share small talk for a little while and fall into silence. I am not sure if it is the early hour or the gravity of the situation sinking in. I am terrified, excited, and in great discomfort. Luke seems to sense that his efforts are not working. He stands up, offers a smile and walks away.

I can hear him talking on the phone. He must have called Joan for more ideas and advice. I can’t sit on the couch anymore so I go and find my therapy ball. I sit on it, unsteadily, and decide to move it closer to the coffee table so I can have some support. I desperately do not want to fall. He returns to find me bouncing lightly. The pain has diminished and this time I offer him a small smile. He pulls up a small chair and reaches for the hand lying across my lap. “Joan is on her way. She should be here in half an hour. You seem to have figured something out for yourself. Can I get you anything else?” He sounds comfortable and confident. I realize just how much I love him and how lucky I am that we ever met.

“Maybe a small glass of water. My mouth feels dry.” He squeezes my hand tenderly and gets up. He returns with the water and we sit in silence again. I can tell he is anxious for Joan to show up. His eyes keep flitting over my shoulder and to the glass window in the door. I take small sips of my water and try to keep my mind on the signals my body is sending me. I am bouncing higher than before, with more force and this makes me aware that the bouncing will not relieve my pain much longer.

The door bell rings and I look over my shoulder. Joan’s smiling face is in the window. Her hair has been hastily pulled back and she has no make-up on. She looks like she is ready to get messy in her track suit. This is also reassuring. She comes in and I am immediately at ease. It’s as if we have known each other for years rather than just a few months. We spend the rest of the morning trying different things to ease the pain. Everything works for a little while, but nothing lasts for long.

I am starting to panic. I am starting to feel that I am being swallowed by pain. I need a change. “I think I need to go to the hospital.” There is a long pause as I take some breaths. Luke comes to my side and holds me into him as I sink into my knees. I feel as if I have an exercise band wrapped around my midsection and it is being pulled to its maximum length. “I just can’t be here anymore.” Joan and Luke nod their agreement. Joan offers to grab some things while Luke stays with me. When Joan has finished packing a small bag, Luke runs to pull the car to the front of the house at my request. I can’t make the walk through the house and then down the narrow steps out back. It will be shorter to walk through the front door and down the much wider steps out front.

Slowly the three of us make the trip. I feel like a very ill member of royalty as I am carefully packed into the car. Everyone is careful not to go too fast or ask more than I can do. I am being pampered in the best way they know how. Luke settles into the seat next to me. He slides the keys into the ignition and turns them. The engine purrs to life. Joan has gone for her own car and promises to beat us to the hospital. She instructs Luke to drive slowly and smoothly. With a wink she adds, “Or face the wrath of a woman on the edge!” We both chuckle and I enjoy this tightening of my stomach muscles. I can already feel my body beginning to relax.

We drive slowly through the back streets of our neighborhood. We can and will take these streets all the way to the hospital. It is lunch hour and the stress of driving in traffic is more than either of us want to manage. I am sure Joan will take that route as she is mentally more able to negotiate the lights and vehicles on the road with a mission and a timeline. Luke and I talk. We talk about our separate experiences over the last 14 hours. We spend more time talking about what we think will be ahead. We are both awash in possibilities.

We make it to the hospital and Joan has been true to her word. We pass her little red Honda Civic in the ramp. Luke parks closest to the elevators on the next floor. He get s out of the car and disappears. I can’t see him and am unsure how I will pull myself out of the bucket seat without his assistance. I am perplexed at this fact and that he would disappear. I am looking out the driver’s side window, hoping to catch a glimpse of his form somewhere nearby. There is a knock on my window. It startles me and I suddenly feel as if I have wet my pants. The feeling makes me smile. Luke is at the window. He opens the door. “Are you coming or are you waiting for a different mode of transportation?” He is standing next to a wheelchair.

Together, we figure out the mechanics of getting my bedraggled body out of the car and into the seat. I am wet and he seems surprised. The water is warm and as I adjust my weight, I can feel more slide down my legs. He pushes the wheelchair to the back of the car and then goes to shut and lock my car door. I ride as he pushes me through the elevator doors. We watch the door slide shut and hear the little blips as the elevator progresses down the two floors to the lobby entrance. Before the doors open, Luke bends down and quietly whispers in my ear, “I know we can do this together. I am here. You are not alone in this now or ever. I love you.” I am flooded with emotion. Tears begin to fall and I know they will be mistaken for misery rather than the pure joy they represent. The doors open and he begins to push the chair again. I want to respond, but don’t have a chance. I am breathing heavily. My back is spasming and someone has pulled the stretch band tightly across my mid section again.

Joan is at the reception desk when we round the corner. She has our bags and a folder in her hands. “They are expecting you in triage. It’s quite the maze to get there, but you’ve made it this far on your journey, what’s a few more turns.” She is so relaxed. It is obvious she has done this many times before. Luke follows her through the maze and we finally reach our destination. She approaches a nurse and pulls some paperwork out of the folder. I recognize that conglomeration of colored papers. Luke and I filled it out a few months ago. We sent in a copy to the hospital, one to our doctor, and gave her the originals. I look up at Luke. He is already looking at me and we exchange excited smiles.

The same nurse Joan was speaking to approaches. She seems kind, but I am having trouble focusing on her. The pain is more intense and more frequent. I nod my head yes, largely oblivious to what she is saying. I can see that Luke is listening intently. The nurse hooks me up to several monitors and calls someone to bring her something. I never see this someone, but I do see the nurse’s nametag. Alicia. “That’s what we want to see, “ she says as she looks at a small slip of paper turn blue. She checks my progress, informs me things are moving along quickly and leaves abruptly.

I am worried. I have missed so much of the conversation that I don’t know what is happening. “What’s wrong?” I blurt to no one in particular. Luke takes my hand and says, “They are getting a room ready. We will be staying. It was a good call on your part. Joan said you’re a champ. She didn’t expect you to be as far along as you are and left to put all of our things in the room.” I relax a little, but still feel like I am missing some vital piece of information. Luke sits next to me. I am having difficulties breathing and am losing my focus. There are so many wires. The machines are beeping and whirring. A little pencil is making zigzag lines across a paper. I feel overwhelmed.

Joan comes back and instantly recognizes my state of shock. “Leia. You are okay. You are going through the toughest part of the transition. It is late and your body has been working hard. Just stick with us a bit longer. You are almost there.” I nod agreement, but am not convinced. I have left nail marks in Luke’s hand. He doesn’t seem to notice, but I think he is just being kind.

Alicia has returned with two other woman and they are helping me back into the wheelchair. I almost fall to my knees. The shift in position has increased my pain level and it is unbearable. I call out, loudly. I’m not sure what I said. Luke laughs and the nursing staff smirks. Only Joan seems to still have her composure. I must have said something inappropriate. Whatever it was, the reactions of the other’s have distracted me from my pain and I am able to lift myself into the chair. I am pushed down a short hall. Luke and Joan are at my side. We turn right and enter a long hall. My room is the fourth on the left. It has huge windows and a view of the capitol. It is very large and comfortably warm.

I grip the arms of the wheelchair tightly and breathe. My eyes are closed, teeth are gritted, and I am suppressing the urge to call out again. The room seems to empty of strangers and I am alone with Luke and Joan again. Once I have caught my breath, Luke asks me to stand. He holds me as if we are taking our first steps together at a middle school dance. Joan gently takes my hands and wraps them around his neck. Luke is whispering to me. It is a sonnet. One that I wrote shortly after he proposed. It is filled with my hopes for our life together. I know why he has chosen it. Now he is whispering the vows he wrote for our wedding. Now he is singing. We are swaying together and I am lost in his words. I feel my body sag under the pain every couple of minutes. There is more strength than I have previously known in his arms. He supports me every time, never wavering, always as if it is easy. I am utterly grateful to him.

I don’t know how much time has passed. My feet hurt and I am reluctant to admit that I need something else. Joan seems to have read my mind and before I can say anything, she and Luke are leading me to the tub. It looks like paradise. I call it Tahiti as I slip clumsily into the water. It is Tahiti and every other tropical place I can imagine. I relax enough to ask what time it is. “It’s 2am.” Luke says, stifling a yawn. He has been up for nearly 24 hours. I am nearing 30 hours.

The water cools. It is no longer soothing. I get out and pull a towel around me. Luke and Joan lead me to the bed. “Get Alicia. Now!” I want to be polite, but I just can’t do it. My voice comes out louder and edgier than I would like. Joan leaves and returns quickly with Alicia. Alicia checks my progress and leaves hurriedly. She returns alone, but a pile up people seems to fall from the sky within a few moments of her arrival. My body is pushing and there is a deep sensation of movement. I feel a slight burn and Luke’s hands are running through my hair. I can see moisture in his eyes even though his face is averted from mine.

There is a tiny cry and a deep sigh from the room. My body is spent. Luke is crying openly now. “She’s beautiful,” he chokes. Bits of blood and tissue cling to her. There is another substance as well. Yellowish in color and sticky to the touch. She is lying across my chest, eyes wide open and looking at my face. I am submerged in a feeling so far removed from pain that it seems as if my experience getting to this point is a distant memory. Somewhere in the background I hear, “Time of birth, 3 o’clock in the morning.”


  1. This is very interesting.
    The most interesting part of this for me is that usually birth stories make me cry and this didn't. maybe it is that you almost feel divorced from what is happening.
    But that is what makes it work.

  2. Or maybe because it wasn't my story. It's elements of someone else's story. I don't have as much of an emotional stake in it. But you think it works without that? Hmmm.... interesting for me too.